Map of the Month: How Much Land Is Protected for Biodiversity?
Humans are driving plants and animals to extinction at a rate not seen since the last great extinction, when an asteroid hit Earth and killed 75% of all species, including the dinosaurs. As many as a million species are threatened with demise during this human-caused mass extinction, according to a recent assessment.
In 2010, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreement set out to tackle the monumental challenge of reducing species loss by setting 20 objectives, to be achieved by 2020. These objectives, known as the Aichi Targets, include raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity and reducing pressure from major causes of species extinction, including farming, logging, mining and fossil fuel use. The treaty has been signed and adopted by 191 countries. The United States, Andorra, Iraq and Somalia have not agreed to the CBD.
Target 11 of the CBD set the goal of conserving 17% of the world’s land to improve biodiversity by 2020, specifying that these protected areas should be “well-connected.” So, how are we doing?
How Much Land Is Protected?
According to research by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), about 14.7% of land has been protected (an area roughly the size of South America and Mexico combined) as of 2017. Researchers estimated this area by using the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), a comprehensive global spatial dataset on marine and terrestrial protected areas, jointly maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). The research used only protected areas on land, although both marine and terrestrial protected areas are shown in the WDPA dataset on Resource Watch below.
The 14.7% isn’t too far off the 17% goal set by the Aichi Targets, although when the target was set in 2010, the world had already conserved 12.9% of land (19 million square kilometers). However, many researchers have pointed out that protecting 17% of land probably is not enough when you consider that many diverse ecosystems act as natural carbon reservoirs and conserving them is essential to keeping global temperature rise below the internationally agreed upon goal of 1.5 degrees C-2 degrees C.
Recently, an international team of scientists released the Global Deal for Nature, which proposes the world protect 50% of land by 2030 in order to protect biodiversity and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Protecting 50% of land from the current level of protection would require conserving an additional 50 million square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Africa and North America combined.
How Much Protected Area Is Connected?
The CBD also included a goal that protected areas be “well-connected” so that animals are free to live, eat and breed within their habitats. Fragmented landscapes are a major threat to many species because they reduce the available habitat and cut off animals’ access to food, shelter and other animals.
The CBD didn’t, however, define what it means to be well-connected. Researchers at the JRC estimated whether protected areas are connected based on their proximity to one another and if terrestrial species could reasonably move from one protected area to the next. According to their study, if protected areas are 10 kilometers or fewer apart, they are connected.
JRC researchers found that only about half the protected lands are well-connected. The results of their study are shown below as the percent of the area of ecoregions that are protected and connected to other protected areas.
The most protected ecoregions that are connected are within the Brazilian Amazon and in the high-elevation grasslands and shrublands of the Himalayan Plateau.
The research group also quantified how much protected area is connected within each country, as a measure of how close countries are to achieving the Aichi target. The map below shows how much of each country’s area is covered by protected lands that are connected.
Only about a third of countries meet the Aichi Target of having 17% of land covered by well-connected protected areas. The countries that have the most connected protected areas include Slovenia, Poland and Venezuela, who all have more than 37% of their land area in connected protected land.
Keep track of progress on protected areas with the World Database of Protected Areas on Resource Watch.